Dale Yu: Review of Cacao Chocolatl

 

Cacao Chocolatl

  • Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
  • Publisher: AbacusSpiele
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: ~1 hr
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by AbacusSpiele

Cacao chocolatl box

Cacao was one of the surprise hits from 2015 for me. I hadn’t heard much about it prior to the release, but I quickly warmed to it from my initial plays at the Gathering of Friends 2015. (link to review here)

This new release is an expansion to that base game – it offers four distinct modules that can be added individually or in any combination to the main game. In this review, I will review each of the modules independently and comment on their effect on the game.

MAP MODULE

The Map module consists of a map board which is placed near the tile supply and two map tiles for each player in the game which are placed on their round village board. In setup, the map board is placed next to the face down tiles, and now there are four faceup tiles on the table. Two on the map board, and two directly on the table. When a player needs to add a tile to the board, he may freely take one of the tiles on the table. He could also choose to discard one of his two map tiles to choose either of the tiles from the map board. When the supply is refilled, all tiles are slid forward – that is, and empty spaces on the table are filled from the map board, and newly exposed tiles are added to the map board. Unused map tiles are worth nothing at the end of the game.

IMG_20160426_172853

My thoughts:  This expansion gives players a lot more opportunity to choose the way the tiles get played to the board. Not only is there more choice on your turn – you now have four tiles to choose from instead of two – but you also have the added insight of knowing the next four tiles to be added to the game. Having two chances to jump ahead in the tile line allows you to plan riskier strategies, because there is a much better chance that you’ll get the 4 market or a water tile when you want it. It also allows you to have a slightly stronger defensive game because you also have a better chance to see what is coming and possibly deny a specific tile from an opponent.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan Blum (1 play): This is so simple I can’t really see a reason not to use it.

WATERING MODULE

This expansion includes three special water/cacao tiles – they each show a water space with 4 cacao plantations on it. The three tiles are added to the supply and a single plantation tile and 2 double plantation tiles are removed. The starting tiles are also changed; you now start with a single cacao plantation and a water hole (in place of the 2 market) as the starting two.

When these new water/cacao tiles are played, each worker next to it can take an action of “spending” one of the gained spaces on the water track for 4 cacao. Of course, you are still limited to 5 cacao in storage, so you’d likely not ever do this with more than one worker. Additionally, you have to already have moved forward on the water track in order to take advantage of this action.

IMG_20160426_173101

My thoughts:  The biggest change for me with this expansion is the immediate availability of the water hole at the start of the game. Each player can now take water with their initial play if they desire, and thus, everyone is eligible to use the new water/cacao tiles. They certainly fill up your cacao stocks when you get them, but the fact that they provide 4 at once means that you have to time things right to be able to use them well.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan Blum (1 play): In my game these weren’t used much so it’s hard to judge them. I don’t think they would be that interesting without the chocolate module.

CHOCOLATE MODULE

In this module, there are 3 chocolate kitchen tiles and 3 chocolate market tiles. They take the place of the three gold mines and the three 3-Markets in the tile supply. There are also a bunch of chocolate bar pieces that are stored on your village board in the same spaces as cacao; you are limited to a total of 5 pieces combined of cacao and chocolate.

When you place a worker next to a chocolate kitchen tile, you can convert one stored cacao into a chocolate bar. The new chocolate market allows you to sell a cacao fruit for 3 gold (same as the tile that it replaces), but it also allows you to sell a chocolate bar for 7 gold. Like cacao, there is no value to the chocolate if unsold at the end of the game.

IMG_20160426_173026

My thoughts:  This module really lets you make a decent strategy of harvesting and converting into chocolate and then selling off those bars for profit. While it does take an extra action to convert the cacao into chocolate, you essentially get that action back (with a gold bonus) when you sell the chocolate for 7 gold. Getting a sale of up to 21 gold can really shift the momentum of the game.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan Blum (1 play): These definitely make a cacao-centric strategy more interesting.

HUT MODULE

This final module is the most complex. It has 12 hut tiles which are double sided. They are shuffled and scattered on the table at the start of the game – whichever side is face up after setup is the side used in this game. Each of the huts has a cost (varying from 4 to 24 gold) at the top and a special ability underneath.

At the end of any turn, you are given the chance to buy any available hut using gold coins already collected by the player (from cacao sales, gold mines, etc). You take the selected hut and put it in front of you. For the rest of the game, you can use the special ability printed on it. You do not lose any scoring value because the hut keeps its scoring value (for its cost) at the end of the game.

Examples of hut abilities are:

  • Market crier: you can sell cacao at 2-markets for 3 gold
  • Hermit: you score one gold for each worker that it at the exterior of the board (and not adjacent to an action tile)
  • Trader: leftover cacao is worth one gold at the end of game
  • Farmer: whenever you have exactly four cacao in storage, you take a fifth to fill your reserves
  • Foreman: when you play a worker tile with 3 workers on its edge, you take four actions with that side
  • Chief: costs 24 but this hut gives you +6 gold – for a total of 30 – at the end of the game

IMG_20160426_173227

My thoughts:  This is the most interesting one of the bunch for me.  The special abilities provided on the huts definitely can shape the way you play the overall game.  Also, depending on the huts available, it can add a bit of a race element to the start of the game as some of the powers of the 6 and 8 value huts can have large effects (IMO), and thus, players might be racing to get to those target VP levels first .  That being said, all of the hut effects seem to be useful in the right situation, and since you keep your VP value when you buy the hut, there’s never any harm in buying one.  Depending on how the game is going, it might even be interesting to buy one in a defensive manner just to prevent someone else from gaining a LOT of points.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan Blum (1 play): Certainly the most interesting of the expansions, but of course also the one most likely to increase play time if players agonize over their choices. I suspect it will play very differently without the chocolate module than with it, as not having that module’s increased payouts would make the more expensive huts difficult to buy.

OVERALL

My thoughts:  Overall, I have enjoyed the four new pieces to Cacao, and when we first played with them, we added in one at a time – but now that we’re familiar with them, I think that they actually work well together as a group, and we now play with all four in. There is a bit of extra setup time as you have to make sure that you are pulling the right tiles out of the base set and adding in the new tiles – but it’s worth it for the added depth of play that you get from the expansions. When they are all in together, you do get a few more strategic options with the new tiles, and I feel they work synergistically together.

If I was going to only play with one, I think I would choose the Hut Expansion because I feel that the added rules exceptions and bonus scoring adds the most flair of the four different modules, but again, I prefer to play with them all.

The addition of the expansions does not add much extra time to the game as the number of tiles remains constant. It does, however, breathe a bit of new life into the base game and it forces you to look at the game in a different light while keeping most of the parts of the base game that I loved to start with.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Craig V:  Cacao is a great tile-laying game and one of the very, very few of that genre in my collection.  I love it so much because the game looks great, can be taught quickly due to the minimal rule set and lack over overly gamery stuff (other than the sun token/build-over mechanism) and it can be played casually with non-gamers or strategically with hobby gamers.  Overall, Cacao is an elegant game and I was really looking forward to what would be done to expand the game…  The Cacao: Chocolatl expansion includes four modules that are simple to add into the Cacao base game play and can be used in any combination.  It’s also easy enough to play with all modules included at once.  The individual modules are actually somewhat thematic and each extends the strategic depth of the game.  However, the expansion modules feel a bit “bolted on” or like a collection of afterthoughts or unnecessary items that were streamlined out of the original design.  This muddles the simple elegance of Cacao and makes the game less approachable for casual gamers.  While I do like the ideas introduced by Cacao: Chocolatl, I don’t really think that it’s a necessary expansion since Cacao is already such a wonderful game without it.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y
  • I like it. Dan Blum, Craig V
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me….

 

Advertisements

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.